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'Bar Dykes' Dives Into Lesbian Life In the 1950s

bar dykes

The Flea Theater transports audiences to a lesbian bar in pre-Stonewall America. 

What was life like in lesbian bars during the 1950s? A new production of Merril Mushroom's play Bar Dykes takes you there in a near-immersive experience at the Flea Theater. Produced by The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), New York City's longest-producing LGBTQ theater company, audiences are submerged into a time many of us have only seen in black and white photos.

Beautifully directed by Virginia Baeta and Mark Finley, the Flea transforms into an NYC bar with a unique clientele of butches, femmes, and all existing in between. (Yep, butches and femmes were out and proud in the '50s underground!)


The cast of Bar Dykes. Center: Kiebpoli Calnek and Amy Bizjak. Photography by Mikiodo.

Mushroom's long-lost play draws on her experiences as a lesbian in the Deep South and NYC in the pre-Stonewall era. Her sharp dialogue, enriched with tension and careful craftsmanship, reveal the seldom forgotten subculture of lesbian society and its very unique existence in mid-century America.

Brilliantly acted by Amy Bizjak, Kiebpoli Calnek, Ure Egbuho, Alex Guhde, Brooke M. Haney, Azalea Lewis, Kimberly Singh, Moira Stone, Angie Tennant, Emily Verla, and Jeanette Villafane, the cast shines in a true ensemble performance.

Mikiodo190710_tosos_bardykes_6040_mrMikiodo190710_tosos_bardykes_6082_mrTOP: Moira Stone. BOTTOM: Azalea Lewis (left) and Kiebpoli Calnek. Photography by Mikiodo.

Hidden beneath the drinking, dancing, and dating are heavy lessons -- perhaps reminders -- of an era not-so-long-passed. What starts as a simple night on the town, after a few rounds of drinks, turns into opportunities for all 11 bar dykes as they reveal glimpses into their private yearnings, hopes, and dreams.

These women liberate themselves in a bar they can call their own, away from a world that wants to control their every move. In a time where same-sex relations were illegal, and women had to wear at least three articles of "female clothing," these dykes are out, proud, and effortlessly themselves -- that is, until the bar is raided and we're forced to see the ugliness that was once a reality (and still is for many) around the world.

With utter fearlessness, the cast of Bar Dykes engages the senses with near-perfect timing, emotion, and vulnerability that will make you ponder: How far have we really come, and how far do we have left to go?

Bar Dykes runs until August 3 at the Flea Theater. Go to OvationTix for ticket prices and dates.

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